24 PICTURE ALBUM
Tuesday, February 24
Steve: We began today on a night train from Jaisalmer
to Jodhpur. Rather than make the 5-hour drive back to Jodhpur (where we'd
catch a flight to Delhi), it was recommended that we take a train. This was
partly to provide us another day in Jaisalmer, but also largely so that we
could experience travel similar to how most Indians traverse the country.
Utpal guessed that 15-20 million Indians ride trains every day.
We weren't sure exactly what to expect, but had been told that we'd be in
a sleeper car with air conditioning. Given our complaining stomachs, we were
a little nervous, but Utpal confidently said that we'd be comfortable - not
We all remembered and spoke about our last night train experience from St.
Petersburg to Moscow, and how official it all seemed - the strict security,
the multiple checks by porters, the large shiny train cars all clearly labeled,
our own private cabin with 4 beds, the music that was played as we boarded
and left, etc. Well, not so in India - this was a very different experience.
As we quickly made our way through the very small station in Jaisalmer, we
approached an old and dark train, complete with several people whose heads
hung out the windows engaged in various conversations.
Utpal took us to the rear of the train where the sleeper cars were located
- out of probably 20 cars total, 5 were designated as sleepers and Utpal explained
that these are the highest class accommodation available on this particular
train (there are trains with more comfortable cars, but these don't come to
the more remote areas such as Jaisalmer).
After forcing our luggage up onto the train and through the narrow passages,
we quickly saw what "sleeper class accommodation" meant. It's basically
a car that's fitted with as many fold-down communal beds as possible. The
car is broken into sections with 6 beds each. These beds run perpendicular
to the main aisle that runs the length of the car. They are stacked 3-high
in 2 columns, separated by only a very small space. In addition, across and
parallel to the main aisle are another series of beds - these are stacked
only 2-high. It was easy to see that these cars have been stuffed with as
many people as possible, and ours was nearly full. We had heard stories about
people taking animals on the trains with them - this may be true, but we were
relieved to see that it didn't happen in the sleeper class
10:45, everyone was on the train and had climbed onto their respective beds.
The train started moving, the lights were shut off, and we all slept remarkably
well. All of our concerns about loud snorers or other disturbances quickly
dissipated as we realized how tired we all were and that the noise and motion
of the train would effectively block everything else out. At 5:00AM, the lights
were all turned back on, and by 5:15 we were in the train station in Jodhpur.
After an early-morning breakfast, we headed to the airport. Jodhpur's airport
is very small, but the security was unlike we have ever seen before. In addition
to multiple checks of our boarding passes (we counted 6), we went through
2 full body searches (once after the metal detector, and another again when
it was time to board the plane), 2 full searches of our carry-on bags, and
a "bag identification" process where we had to positively identify
our checked bags before they were put on the plane. In addition, security
people come onto the plane both in Jodhpur and again in Jaipur (where we stopped
on the way to Delhi) to ask everyone to positively identify each piece of
carry-on baggage. Wow! We learned later that the Jodhpur airport is run by
the military, and its proximity to Pakistan makes it more of a threat. We're
glad we didn't know all that before flying
The Jodhpur airport was also the site of our final and very sad goodbye to
Utpal. Spending these two weeks with Utpal has been an amazing experience
- he's really become part of the family during our time in India. We all learned
a tremendous amount from Utpal, and greatly appreciated his unique ability
to show us the "real India." We know that we'll keep in touch with
Utpal, and hope to host him in the states someday.
We arrived in Delhi right on schedule, and spent the afternoon at the Raddison
hotel near the Delhi airport. We needed the time to rest and simply hang out
before the next part of our journey to Hanoi. Hot showers, a Western room
service meal and a match of cricket on TV did just the trick.
Leaving India, we all agreed that this was a fantastic experience for us
all, and one that far exceeded our expectations. Although we admittedly were
apprehensive at first about our visit here, we now can't imagine having missed
this huge and fascinating country.
Our flight from Delhi to Bangkok was long and not particularly comfortable.
We were in the very back of our Air India 747, and the air conditioning was
not working well. We finally arrived at 11:45PM, went through immigration
and customs (quite a waste since we're only spending 8 hours in Thailand)
and checked into the Amari Airport hotel at 12:30AM. Lights out was 1:00AM
with a 5:00AM wakeup call. Ugh. At least we know that this is one of the tougher
travel sequences from our whole trip, and it's almost over
Next stop, Vietnam!